As the 20th century wound down, the Los Angeles Police Department’s contentious relationship with its Black citizenry suffered another setback. On top of justified complaints of brutality going back decades, new accusations emerged that the department was negligent in its responsibility to protect their neighborhoods from a spiraling crime rate.
Allegations that the force did not pursue the crimes with the same zeal that would be implemented in affluent communities like Westwood prompted activists like Margaret Prescod to form the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Killers to focus media attention on the more 200 women who’d disappeared in south Los Angeles.
One reporter who covered these macabre events was Christine Pelisek of the L A Weekly.
An unassuming White woman from Canada, Pelisek, along with her editor, coined the name, “Grim Sleeper” for the killer later revealed to be South Los Angeles resident Lonnie David Franklin, after he presumably took a 14-year respite from
his ghastly undertakings. “The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central,” released in June, is her somber accounting of this urban tragedy.
The book proceeds with the reality that scores of Black women, many of them struggling under the yoke of substance abuse, were murdered before the public was notified. Twenty years would pass before Franklin would be apprehended. A fixture and first-rate mechanic in his neighborhood-known for maintaining the cars of those in need (including the vehicles of present and former Our Weekly staffers)-he presumably used his experience as a sanitation worker to covertly dispose of his fatalities in the alleys and dumpsters of his vast hunting grounds centered on Western Avenue.
Franklin worked for a time as a mechanic for the LAPD, and may have picked up knowledge of police procedures to aid in his gruesome enterprise.
To be fair, the police had their hands full. Historically undermanned for a major metropolitan city, detectives had to work within the morass of the crack cocaine epidemic, a scourge that would smear the culture and psyche of South Los Angeles for generations to come. Data from the city, LAPD, and the U.S. Census have homicides ranging from 777 in 1985 to 1092 in 1993.
At the same time, at least five murderers aside from Franklin were operating in South Los Angeles at the time. They are believed to be Louis Craine (four to five victims), Michael Hughes (seven), Daniel Lee Siebert (the sole White offender whose grisly tally of 10 murders nationwide includes two locally, in 1985), Chester Turner (11), and a still unknown assailant whose 10 fatalities are linked together by DNA.
All of these convicted killers died on death row, except Hughes who remains incarcerated along with Franklin and Turner.
This difficult situation was exacerbated by the complicated boundaries of the 88 cities and unincorporated areas that make up Los Angeles
County. The bodies of these unfortunates were found within the confines of Hawthorne, Inglewood as well as the city of Los Angeles proper.
Pelisek benefited from her coverage of the Grim Sleeper with a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Los Angeles. Her profile elevated to a national level; she now covers crime for People
Magazine. She was the focus of a 2014 Lifetime television movie highlighting her exploits.
To her credit, Pelisek tends to relegate herself to the background in her narrative, placing the focus on the victims (each of these individual unfortunates are given chapters).
“The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central,” is available on Amazon.com, or locally at Eso Won Books, 4331 Degnan Blvd., in Leimert Park.